Hot Science: The Best New Science Culture

Alien invasion, how games will save the world, sudden intelligence, and more

By Andrew Moseman|Saturday, March 05, 2011

TV


The Event
Originally hyped as the new Lost, creator Nick Wauters’s NBC drama hit its stride as its own distinct mashup of sci-fi genres—alien invasion, government conspiracy, fugitive on the lam—with plenty of twists to come as the show returns for the second half of its debut season this spring.

Blair Underwood stars as the newly elected president who plans to defy counsel and free a shadowy group of aliens imprisoned for decades by the United States government. Laura Innes portrays Sophia Maguire, leader of the alien detainees, with an enigmatic blend of maternal empathy and steely resolve, while Jason Ritter brings a hangdog intelligence to the role of Sean Walker, an MIT computer geek who inadvertently discovers the clandestine operation while searching for his abducted girlfriend.

Sagging ratings could dash hopes for a second season, but that’s not necessarily 
a bad thing: Pressed for time, The Event moves along briskly, with new revelations coming fast and furious. Catch it while you can.
Mondays, 9 p.m
—Corey S. Powell


BOOKS
How Games Will Save the World

Reality Is Broken
 
by Jane McGonigal
 (Penguin)
Since the multiplayer game 
World of Warcraft debuted in 2004, gamers have spent more than 50 billion hours guiding their role-playing avatars through its mythical virtual worlds. That’s a combined 
6 million years of what game designer Jane McGonigal calls “hard fun”—hard work that’s challenging yet satisfying. To McGonigal, the addictive draw of games represents a remarkable opportunity to improve reality, not simply escape from it, because games create a powerful arena for collaboration.
McGonigal points to a recent project in which she helped the World Bank Institute create a free online multiplayer game called EVOKE (video) that challenges people around the world to solve major social ills like hunger and poverty. Set in 2020, the game explores a secretive network of superhero problem solvers in Africa and then challenges players to create world-changing ventures of their own within 10 weeks. “There is something primal about our desire to play games,” McGonigal says. The big challenge for game designers is to figure out smarter ways to tap that desire for the greater good. See DISCOVERmagazine.com's exclusive interview with McGonigal.

Why We Get Fat
  by Gary Taubes 
(Alfred A. Knopf)
Taubes’s latest addition to the crowded genre of diet books dismisses as folly the common wisdom of calorie counting. It’s not how much we eat, he argues, but what we eat that makes us pack on the pounds, The culprits: insulin and hormonal imbalance. Taubes expertly translates the latest scientific thinking on insulin and fat storage but draws conclusions that seem disappointingly familiar: Meat is good, carbs are bad, and exercise just makes you hungrier.




Moonwalking With Einstein
  by Joshua Foer 
(Penguin)

In recounting his year in training for the U. S. Memory Championship, journalist Foer delivers a rich history of memory, beginning with early recorded accounts of “super memory” in ancient Greece. He also shares a few fun mnemonic devices. Need to remember to buy cottage cheese? Build a “memory palace” in which you picture Claudia Schiffer swimming in a vat of the stuff. Technology may be rendering such memory training unnecessary, but Foer sees more than a party trick 
in his new skills. “It’s about nurtur­ing something profoundly and essentially human."

The Ragged Edge of the World 
 by Eugene Linden (Viking)

Linden’s globetrotting trek explores the steady erosion of wilderness and the impact on indigenous peoples and biodiversity in places like Borneo and New Guinea. A veteran nature writer, Linden is at his best when drawing on a lifetime of adventure stories from remote regions. But his tendency to preach occasionally detracts from his bigger message of conservation.
—Elise Marton & Andrew Moseman


FILM

limitless
limitless
John Baer

Limitless  Universal Studios
If anyone needs a wonder drug, it’s Eddie Morra. Bradley Cooper’s character in this psychological thriller is a bedraggled writer whose career and personal life are languishing until a friend slips him a new psychotropic medication called NZT. On the pills, Eddie’s mind kicks into hyperdrive: In a matter of days, he finishes writing a book, learns Italian, and makes a killing on Wall Street. But like any pharmaceutical, NZT has side 
effects: amnesia, paralysis, homicidal blackouts, and the threat of sudden death. Robert De Niro also stars in this film based on Alan Glynn’s 2002 novel The Dark Fields. Opens March 18.
—Mara Grunbaum


MUSEUM

Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination  Pacific Science Center, Seattle

The galaxy far, far away may not be so far away after all. This traveling exhibit, assembled in part by Star Wars creator George Lucas’s company Lucasfilm and presented by Bose, lets visitors explore the real-life science behind the Star Wars universe. Ever want to build your own landspeeder? The Maglev Engineering Design Lab lets 
you outfit a scaled-down model speeder with a simple magnetic levitation system, and in the process you learn how modern Maglev trains hover above the tracks. The game “Building Communities” asks players to choose technologies to adapt to Luke Skywalker’s arid homeworld, such as using moisture collectors to find drinking water. When you’re done constructing hovercraft and fending 
off dehydration, kick back in a replica cockpit of the Millennium Falcon for a spectacular view of some of the best images from the Hubble Space Telescope. Opens 
March 19.
—Will Hunt

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